By Toni Morrison
Table of contents
Biography and Plot
Point of view
Sula by Toni Morrison (outline)
Biography and Plot
Toni Morrison the author of the novel Sula, was born in Lorain, Ohio on February 18,1931. Chole Wofford is her original name, she changed her name to Toni because people at Howard had trouble pronouncing the name Chloe. She was the second of four children born to Ramah and George Wofford. Toni Morrison is the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is best known for her novels focusing on intimate relationships, especially between men and women.
Morrison grew up during the Great Depression in the 1930s, a time of severe economic hardship. In 1949 Morrison went to Howard University in Washington, D.C., to study English. Morrison received her bachelor of arts degree in English from Howard in 1953, she taught for two years at Texas Southern University in Houston. She met her husband Harold Morrison while attending Howard university. Married in 1958, and had two sons, Harold (also known as Ford) and Slade. In 1964 her and her husband divorced, before the divorce, Morrison went to Syracuse, New York, and began working as an editor for a Random House company.
In 1968 Morrison moved to New York City, where she continued working as an editor for Random House. She eventually became a senior editor and was the only African American woman to have that job in the company. While there she helped to publish books by African American writers, including Toni Cade Bambara (1939–1995), Gayl Jones (1949–), and June Jordan (1936–).Morrison produced a relatively small but brilliant body of work.
List of her works:
Bluest eye (1970)
Song of Solomon (1977)
Tar Baby (1981)
Morrisons attitudes and concerns;
Sula has an incredible unique style. Morrison uses key writing styles to convey the main themes in her novel: race. Sula is set in the deep South; the novel contains examples of lasting racism and prejudice. Segregation is huge in the novel, an obvious reveal of segregation is, the division between the hill and the valley areas of Medallion along racial lines. Segregation dictates the behavior and lifestyles of the novel’s characters. One of the characters Nel expresses her insecurity about her mother’s Helene complexion and her mix blood. As they travel together in the novel, Nel notices the unbalanced power that exist for whites and blacks. Race and prejudice aches the black community, specially to whom are continually denied the same opportunities for jobs in place of the whites.
The main base of the novel is Friendship, which carries in the entire novel. In section 1922 on page six it says “Which was only fitting, for it was in dreams that the two girls had first met.” (Morrison 6) The novel is based on the friendship between Nel and Sula, this quote signifies how the two girls are destined for each other. They share loneliness and companionship to help them find each other. This quote introduces the base of the novel which revolving around the friendship of Sula and Nel. Another quote that represents the book well is in section 1933 on page 33, Nel says to Hannah, “Sure you. You like her, like I love Sula. I just don’t like her. That’s the difference.” (Morrison 33) In this quote as well Hannah betrays Sula as Sula betrayed Nel, so on this subject this was Nel’s respond to Hannah. Nel emotions towards Sula will recur serval moments in the novel for the underlying conflict.
Point of view
Sula is written in third person omniscient, the narrator gives is able to let the reader in on the inner thoughts on nearly every character. The novel is very character driven, the point of view grants the reader important access to the contradictory amounts who drive the action. The narrator gives the opportunity to the reader to get to know Helene as much as Hannah, Sula as much as Nel, and Shadrack as much as Eva. The narrator helps the reader reserve judgement since there is not judging by the narrator.
Another point of view that could been used was first person. One of the characters. For instance, the protagonist, Sula can be the speaker of the novel. If that was the case the reader would have no general background or knowledge of the other characters’ true thoughts or feelings in the novel. The novel is originally in third person omniscient, but with this point of view, it allows the reader to have an understanding of all the characters in a better form. If it was in first person it will only let the readers know how the characters are from one point of view. The novel will be completely different tone, mood, and setting if that change would occur.
Sula is displayed as bad, a liar, a betrayer etc. Sula left the bottom ten years ago and she returns back unknowingly. The women of the bottom are disgusted by Sula because she is living criticism, she embodies freedom, adventure and is very unpredictable. She states, “the narrower their lives, the wider their hips.” (Morrison 1939.121) Sula mention this because she does not believe in the way her society expects of women. Statement about the protagonist
Nel opens her thoughts on Sula’s actions, throughout the novel. Sula realizes her behavior will not make her strong like Nel. She discovers later in novel that her defense “not Nel’s gratitude but her disgust. From then on her emotions dictate her behavior” (Morrison 1940.141) Nel’s disappointment in the satisfaction that Sula’s expression of independence brings Sula to command her on self.
Sula reveals herself as a dominant female and she obtains this identity during her childhood. Sula displays herself through her emotions and her lack to control acting on them. Sula shows her independence, when she slices off her fingertip to defend Nel against a boy. She asks the boy “If I can do that to myself, what you suppose I’ll do to you?” (Morrison 1922.55) Sula emotions are not taken as a direct threat but indirectly with self-infliction.
Shadrack is a flat character in the novel because he exposes the reader to the horrors of war, which is one of the themes in the novel. In the novel, he returns from WW1, his neighbors are frightened by him at first but get used to his strange ways. As the reader reads the novel they get a sense that he sees far more than people give him credit for. In one part of the novel Shadrack recalls the day Sula came to his house, she was very concerned about Chicken’s accident. Shadrack thought she needed reassurance; “to convince her, assure her of permanency” (Morrison 1941.12). Somehow, Shadrack is aware that what Sula needs is confirmation that can count on something. Shadrack serves as yet another reminder that things are not always as they appear.
The novel’s conclusion, Shadrack leads the people pf the bottom to the deaths in tunnel. He seems to be one of the most rational characters in the novel, Shadrack manages to survive the one National Suicide day that actually turns in a day of death. Despites his appearances, he is the most observant person in the novel.
Morrison characterizes Eva, who is one of the few characters to survive at the end of the novel. The narrator speaks loudly about Eva. Eva is shown to be willing to sacrifice her own happiness to make sure her kids are happy first. She is also capable of acts of great spite and some that are purposeful as cruel. The characters in the novel think Eva lies to get what she wants, which speaks a lot about her character.
She does what she has to do to survive, her independence made her a woman who shows little affection to her family unless its her children. Eva sets the action in many important events in the novel.
Sula face conflict after Chicken Little’s death and Hannah’s death. When Chicken Little dies, Sula was too afraid to tell anyone about what she witnesses, for fear she might be blamed for intending to kill him or bully him. Although she attempts to save and protect Chicken Little, she lived with that feeling in her gut on if society will misunderstand the incident and blame her for something, that she didn’t commit. She unsure on whether to spill the news about his death or stay quiet.
Nel is Sula’s foil, they may be quite different, but their differences help characterize them, as it does for their similarities.
In the first few sections of the novel, the tone sets off as the narrator is even-handed. Although there is ugliness in the characters, it is spread around fairly. The author reveals the positive and negative in nearly all the major parts of the novel. The character Sula for example; after she slept with Jude, Morrison follows up the most shocking actions with explanation of the characters actions. Morrison offers the reader this passage: Marriage, apparently, had changed all that, but having had no intimate knowledge of marriage, having lived in a house with women who thought all men available, and selected from them with a care only for their tastes, she was ill prepared for the possessiveness of the one person she felt close to, she new well enough what other women were not jealous of other women; that they were only afraid of losing their jobs. After their husbands would discover that uniqueness lay between their legs.” (Morrison 1939.39)
This helps the reader discover that Morrison doesn’t make any excuses for Sula here, but she does offer the reader a possible explanation for why she doesn’t understand the betrayal Nel feels. Morrison presents the tone to even-handed and allows the reader to reach our own conclusions.
Setting and character
The setting of Sula takes place in the rich, fertile hills of Medallion, a small valley in Ohio. The citizens of this town refer to these hills, where the African- American live as the “bottom”. The author used the first few sections in the novel to give the reader with basic knowledge of the town and the Bottom. The Bottom was an old joke by a white farmer, on who gave a slave a section of land in the hills and in exchange doing difficult task for him. The farmer says that his land is bottom land because, “when God looks down, it’s the bottom. That’s why we call it so. It’s the bottom of heaven, the best land there is.” (Morrison 1919.5) The Bottom of Medallion was not being not located at the lowest part of the town, but the high up in the hills. Morrison scrambles into the powerful female bond between the novel’s women and how both nurture and threaten female identity. When the novel ends, the year 1965, the narrator informs the reader the events that shape Sula’s and the black community’s identities between 1919-1965.
Setting and action
Morrison reveals a ton about the characters. “It was in that summer, the summer of their twelfth year, the summer of beautiful black boys, that they became skittish, frightened, and bold- all at the same time.” (Morrison 1922.24). The readers get an understanding of Sula and Nel’s fear and boldness; its enough for Morrison to inform the reader.
Setting and symbols
One symbol in the novel is Sula’s birthmark, which is placed right above her eyes. The birthmark inspires many elaborate stories among the citizens of the Bottom. It gets darker as Sula’s years go on, the birthmark is a symbol of her age, the maturity, the sadness, etc. Morrison’s states the birthmark resembles a “stemmed rose, Sula desires independence and freedom of a man. When she sleeps with her best friend’s husband, she treats it as if it nothing. She says “I didn’t kill him, I just fucked him” (Morrison 1940.145) Sula doesn’t care what others think, she wants to be different and not be like every other woman at the bottom. Her birthmark represents who she is.
– personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human for.
– “A ball of muddy strings, but without weight, fluffy but terrible in its malevolence” (Morrison 1937.109)
– Malevolence is a very human characteristic defined as “having or showing a wish to do evil to others” A ball of muddy strings could not wish to do evil.
– a warning or indication of a future event
– “Sula would come by of an afternoon, walking along with her stride, wearing a plain yellow dress the same way her mother, Hannah, had worn those too-big house dresses- with a distance, an absence of a relationship to clothes which emphasized everything the fabric covered.” (Morrison 1937.117)
– This quote represents foreshadowing because, it foreshadows how Sula becomes like her mother by the end of the novel.
– a seemingly absurd statement
– “Sula stepped of the Cincinnati Flyer into robin shit and began the long climb up into the bottom” (1937.90)
– “Climbing up into the bottom” sounds contradictory on the surface, but it is a true and logical statement because the name of the town is “the bottom”
– visually descriptive or figurative language (birds)
– “plague of robins” (Morrison 1937.89)
– Birds are everywhere in Sula, when Rochelle come in the novel she is wearing a “canary-yellow dress”, in section 1920. In section 1937 is an “plague of robins”, robins are associated with the spring, the season of growth. In the novel Sula brings with her a lot of pain, Morrison’s readers learn that her presence also generates a renewed sense of purpose in the bottom.
2. Sentence structure
– the way a sentence is arranged, grammatically
– “But they had been down on all fours naked, not touching expect their lips right down there on the floor where the tie is pointing to, on all fours like (uh huh, go on say it) like dogs”
– Morrison writing style is very straightforward, she creates sentences that mirror the way society thinks.
Sula studies the ways that black people struggle to live in America, a country with outrageous history and oppressing black people. The color characters in the novel face the weight of a history which white Americans have consistently belittled blacks out of their rights. The novel is set in the city of Medallion, the blacks have been confined to the bottom. Whites promised blacks land on the “bottom”, eventually broke that promise by giving away in the hills. As the novel goes on, Morrison readers witnessed more of white manipulation of the African- American community but becoming slyer. Sula is structured with an end at its beginning, Sula people began to view things in fragments. The novel mirrors this by the beginning and ending around the same time period. There is a clear social stratification between whites and blacks in the Ohio community. Their communities are destroyed for the construction of the “suburbs”. The preface foreshadows society’s confusion with two main characters, Shadrack and Sula, this reveals the background of the title.
Two themes in the novel are race and friendship. For race, Sula studies the ways that black people struggle to live in American. The division between the hill and valley areas of Medallion along racial lines reflects the behaviors and lifestyles of the novel’s characters. For example, one of the characters Nel, expresses her feelings towards her mother’s mixed blood. She notices the uneven power given between whites and blacks. Race plays a huge role in the novel, it gives pain to the black people of the bottom.
Friendship is the core in Sula, the characters go through some of the most difficult times in their lives. Friendship also is difficult in the novel, friendship causes heartache as friends gain different understandings of what their friendship actually means. For example, Sula and Nel had hardships in their friendships but without each other, neither female is as happy as when they have one another.
The three novels that have similar theme to Sula is Wonder by R.J Palacio The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
Wonder is based off a ten-year-old boy named August Pullman who was born with a facial deformity that has made it hard for him to make friends. He has been homeschooled up until fifth grade but his parents decided to enroll him to Beecher prep. August settles into the first couple months of school and gradually his classmates get used to his image. He gains a friendship with a bot name Jack and a girl named Summer. A rumor went around the school saying that “if you touch August you will get the plague”, August suffers it hard during school especially Halloween when some kids make fun of August and say “they will kill themselves if they looked like August”
Wonder examines friendship, by the friendship with Summer and Jack save August from total isolation. All friendships come differently, both Summer and Jack are constantly challenged by their peers over their relationship with August. Summer regularly defends August as Jack takes longer to value his friendship with August. Once Jack realizes how he damaged August by his words, he asks for forgiveness. Through the process of gaining a friendship back with August, Jack learns the true meaning of friendship. (gradesaver.com)
In the novel The Help, tells the story of black maids working in white southern homes in the early 1960’s in Jackson Mississippi. A 22-year-old graduate from Ole Miss named Skeeter, returns home to her family cotton plantation, to find her childhood maid/nanny has left with a mystery left behind. Skeeter flips her small town on its ear by choosing to interview the black maids. Aibileen (the house keeper of Skeeter’s best friend) is interviewed first. Throughout the novel maids are influenced by Aibileen and had a lot to say about their experiences as a maid. Skeeter decides to write and published a book from the point of view of the maids.
The Help, exposes the racism the African-Americans faced with as they work for white families. The novel is based off the 1960’s from the Jim Crow laws that sanctioned discrimination as official policy to casual conversations between middle-class white women. The novel is focus on how white housewives abuse their maids. For example, one of the housewife in the novel is Miss Hilly. She is a strong character who openly expresses her belief that African-Americans are “unclean”, who carry diseases not by whites. Almost every white female in the novel expresses the social practices that reinforce the intuitional line between blacks and whites under the Jim Crow law. The novel also portrays how racism is not inherent to human nature, but instead is passed down by generations. (eNotes.com)
Lastly in the novel The Color Purple, is about the protagonist and narrator Celie, who is a poor, uneducated 14-year-old black female living in rural Georgia. Celie began writing letters to God because her father beats and rapes her, who already impregnated her once. Celie became a mother but not for long, her father stole her baby girl and killed the infant in the woods. Celie then had a second child which was a boy, and her father repeats the same thing to the boy as he did for the first child. Celie’s mother becomes very sick and dies later in the novel, Alphonso; Celie father has no emotion towards his wife’s death and brings another woman in the home, yet still continues to abuse his daughter.
Celie believes herself to be ugly in part of her skin, she is extremely downtrodden at the beginning of the novel. The African-American female living in the pre-civil rights, she is invisible in her race to be particularly proud of. Black women in this novel are far too often victims of violent crimes committed by white men. As Celie learns about civilization that existed in Africa, she reimagines her own vision of God and builds some pride in her race.